When members of the Transport Workers Union walked off their jobs for 60 hours in 2005, earning nothing but the ire and contempt of subway and bus riders and causing hardship for those New Yorkers who can least afford it, they knew they were violating the state’s Taylor Law, which prohibits strikes by government employees.
They broke the law, and their union was fined $2.5 million for the crime. In addition, a judge ruled that the union could not collect dues automatically from members’ paychecks until its leaders conceded that they did not have the right to call a strike. The ban on checkoffs hit the union where it hurts—in its bank account.
The union’s arrogant and incompetent president, Roger Toussaint, who led his members on this disastrous course, is still trying to evade an ironclad promise that the union will respect the Taylor Law in future negotiations. He has conceded that the Taylor Law exists, and that it prohibits strikes by government workers. But he hasn’t said explicitly that the T.W.U. does not have the right to call another strike.
Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority wants to allow Mr. Toussaint to resume collection of dues automatically, even though the union refuses to say the magic words. City Hall is aghast, and rightfully so. Why reward a union that clearly wishes to reserve the right to call another illegal strike?
The M.T.A.’s leaders say they are simply trying to achieve labor peace. The union desperately wishes to return to automatic dues collection, but at the same time, it clearly does not want to acknowledge that it does not have the right to strike. It is important to bear in mind that the transit workers have called three strikes in the past 40 years. Such defiance of the law demands a tough response.
Mr. Toussaint says that it’s “time to put this matter behind us.” We couldn’t agree more, which is why we believe he and his union should acknowledge that they are bound by law to remain on the job under all circumstances. It’s not enough to say, as Mr. Toussaint has, that the union “does not assert the right to strike.” Michael Cardozo, the city’s corporation counsel, has described these sentiments as “lip service.” The union has to state, plainly, that it will not strike again.
The M.T.A. also wants to put this matter to rest, but without pressing Mr. Toussaint to make a serious commitment. This is a curious way of achieving labor peace. In fact, it sounds like City Hall’s labor policy during the 1960’s: Give the unions whatever they want, and hope for the best. The bill for that ill-fated policy came due in the mid-1970’s, when the city nearly went bankrupt.
Ultimately, the question of dues collection will be decided in the state’s Supreme Court. The M.T.A. would be wise to drop its appeal on Mr. Toussaint’s behalf; does the M.T.A. board really believe that somehow Mr. Toussaint, who has proven his lack of any ethical core in the past, will become a more amenable negotiating partner? If so, New Yorkers have every right to question the M.T.A.’s judgment.